No official Covid-19 lockdown in Taiwan, but residents stay vigilant

Empty stretches of Taipei's busy Zhongxiao East Road.
Empty stretches of Taipei's busy Zhongxiao East Road.PHOTO: TSAI_INGWEN/INSTAGRAM

TAIPEI - Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen shared a series of photos on social media on May 16, all showing empty stretches of Taipei's busy Zhongxiao East Road.

While Taiwan is not under official lockdown yet, the island's worst community outbreak since the Covid-19 pandemic began had Taiwanese go into voluntary quarantine, steering clear of public spaces and postponing appointments until after May 28, when the Level 3 alert is scheduled to be lifted.

In Taiwan's four-tier Covid-19 alert system, Level 3 mandates mask-wearing once people leave their homes, social distancing and a limit on gatherings.

"I've never seen the metro so empty," said documentary producer Betty Wang, 30, who was on her way to scout out filming locations.

Public transportation, parks, department stores and markets are now largely deserted, and no schoolchildren can be seen chasing one another on sidewalks as schools are closed.

But teachers and administrative staff are suddenly having to learn what many in other countries have had to: How to teach remotely using live-streaming services.

"How can the Department of Education expect teachers and students to suddenly all have the necessary equipment for live streams just a day after schools are closed?" asked Ms Chungyi Li, 31, sounding defeated after futile attempts to keep lessons flowing smoothly.

"The school's Internet bandwidth isn't enough," she sighed.

Those who were lucky enough to work from home ventured out occasionally with their masks secure, warily watching others to see if they had masks on as well.

Many people reposted President Tsai's photos, proud that Taiwanese people were taking things seriously.

"Watch this, world, Taiwan will only demonstrate this once, lifting the Level 3 alert in just two weeks!" many boasted on social media.

But after bouts of panic-buying in the week of May 10, when domestic cases began to climb, the hysteria has begun to wane.

And even with six consecutive days of logging hundreds of local cases, trepidation seems to be wearing off.

Life is returning to downtown Taipei's Da-an district, around Daan Forest Park, the city's version of Central Park. Earlier in the week, joggers, couples and dog owners were seen out in force - all wearing masks.

Some even think they can start to travel again.

Mr Chen Yung-fu, 66, wanted to meet his friends at Taipei's Beitou district, where many hot springs are located.

"I reported him to the authorities," said his daughter, Ms Lynn Chen, 31. "And I don't believe for a second that they are soaking in the hot springs with their masks on. It's the perfect environment for the virus to spread."